the role of the teacher has been as a purveyor of information; the teacher has
been the font of all knowledge.” (Reece, I. & Walker, S. 2009 p.3).
traditional view of teaching and training has changed radically over recent
decades. It was once considered enough to impart knowledge with no
consideration of the needs of learners or that identifying and meeting
learner’s needs had any role to play in learning and ultimately in the
learner’s success in their chosen field of study.
identification of individual learning need is now recognised as a significant
factor in the success of learners and the institutions where they study. It is now
accepted as the crucial first stage in the learning/training cycle upon which
all other stages depend:
Figure 1 The Learning/Training cycle adapted from
The rest of the cycle can be seen as the process of
making sure those needs once identified are then met.
Why is it important to identify and meet individual learner needs?
Before we can answer this question it is worth
thinking for a moment about what we mean by learner needs. The range of learner
needs can be described in a variety of ways – one of which is SPICE:
This can influence how a learner interacts with others or how they
view learning, especially if they have had a previously poor experience of
education. It also includes issues around caring responsibilities, personal
finance, cost of courses, access to resources e.g. a computer; it also covers
issues of equality – age, class, gender,
race, sexuality etc.
This can affect a learner’s ability to access learning e.g. sensory or
mobility disabilities. They may need help to access the building; adaptive
technology to use ITC; help with reading/writing or aids to help them take
part in sessions through discussions etc.
This can influence how a learner gains new knowledge/skills. Learners
may be at different academic or skill levels and take longer or shorter times
to process new knowledge/skills than other learners. They may have different
learning preferences e.g. visual, auditory etc. They can also be affected by
a range of learning disabilities/difficulties (e.g. dyslexia, autism, Down’s
Syndrome etc.), all of which may impact on the learner’s ability to learn.
This could affect learner views, values and beliefs of learning and education
or their abilty to understand and contribute e.g. they may speak and write
English as a second language.
These issues (personal, family, work, community) can influence a learner’s
motivation or ability to concentrate, either in class or when studying out of
The different types of needs described above can also
be described as barriers to learning when they impact negatively on the
learner’s ability to learn. It is the teacher’s responsibility to identify
barriers and then remove or mitigate them as much as possible; this then leads
to the creation of “a safe, supportive and motivating learning environment”, (Machin
et al., 2017 p64). A teacher then is not only involved in identifying needs,
but also understanding how these needs may become barriers if not recognised
learners needs before they start a course (through initial and diagnostic
assessment) makes sure they are directed to the right course of study for them
and that they start at the right level. This is important as there is a
link between effective initial/diagnostic assessment and retention and success
rates; both of which are essential for securing funding and gaining positive
inspection reports for the institution. It also makes sure the learner starts
on a course of study that is appropriate for them and sets them onto the
correct path for success; a learner on the wrong course will lead to a sense of
failure for them and a waste of resources for the organisation.
Identifying and meeting learner needs enables us to plan
and deliver effective learning that understands learner motivation, creates a
learner centred process, uses individualised learning objectives and meets
their individual needs, including any additional support they may require. It
can also identify the need to develop wider skills e.g. literacy, numeracy and
ICT, which underpins the learner’s ability to participate in life outside the
classroom, as well as on the course.
It also allow us to recognise different learning
styles that learners may have and include these in the delivery of learning; we
can also use them to create and deliver differentiated learning (Petty, G.
2014), that recognises the individual nature of learners and allows them to
progress at a rate that suits them. We can create individualised learning plans
that include their own aspirations and goals and we can assess and monitor
their progress against these goals.
As can be seen from the issues outlined above no-one
comes to a course of study without bringing with them a complex mix of
backgrounds, abilities, experience and confidence; the term we use for this mix
of learner characteristics is “diversity”. In order for learners to participate
and engage in learning we have to recognise this diversity, so all learners are
included in the learning process.
One of the important responsibilities of being a
teacher is to deliver “inclusive learning” (Gould, J. &
Roffey-Barenstein, J. 2014). If we are successful in identifying and meeting the diverse needs of our
learners then we can say we are creating and delivering a truly inclusive